As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The sixth interview is from Karin Ruggaber our Abbey Fellow in Painting.
So you’re making this sculpture on the wall with concrete. How long have you been working with this material, and why?
Yes, I’ve been working on this seascape relief here in the studio in Rome. I’ve been experimenting with concrete since 2005. It is like stone but it’s not stone. It presents a sort of instant geology. You can shape it and bring your imagination to it.
I like to work with architectural facades, and I’ve been making work that relates to architecture in the sense of how your body relates to architecture, how you stand with it physically and become immersed in it.
I think we understand objects with the whole body, beyond the visual sense. It is something to do with touch and how we relate to scale and material, and move in space. The idea with my larger-scale pieces is that you move alongside them as you would move alongside a wall, navigating them with your body.
I was trying to reconcile this aesthetic with that of the fountain installation you made at the Romanian Academy.
Yes, they’re two different strands of my work. I saw the fountain at the Romanian Academy and instantly connected to this space. Ever since I came to Rome I had this revelation about water, although I was already working on marine subjects before. I like this subject matter, the idea of the aspiration of it, of escape, of the sea being this powerful force connected to identity. The many fountains in Rome are strangely magnetic sites, monuments but also functional water systems. There is definitely a sense of Italy, and its past as a naval power, being connected to the sea, in reality and mythologically. There are perhaps parallels with Britain and its past as a maritime empire.
I collaborated on a fountain piece with a friend of mine last year, working from an image of a nineteenth-century painting of a shipwreck and sirens and mythological creatures being sucked into the sea. There was a logic to do with the current political situation in Britain. The title of the painting is A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas with a Siren on the Rocks by the history painter Lacroix de Marseille.
There is an idea of a dark force, a seduction, something uncontrollable at work, stormy seas being of course a political metaphor too. As well as the temptations of nationalism, of mythological narratives.
Would you say your inspiration is derived from nineteenth-century epic painting rather than a direct experience of the sea?
Maybe both. I’ve been looking at figuration and ornamentation around water and marine life in Rome, in the fabric of the city, historic as well as contemporary. I’m fascinated by ports, such as the one in Naples for example. I was in a group show recently in a seaside resort in Britain, at Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, and I like the figuration around seaside resorts.
I wouldn’t say my interest in historical painting is tied to a particular period but it’s connected to the representation of a force. I like it when it becomes hyper-figurative, like many of the siren paintings of the late 1800s, early 1900s, when mythology ventures towards superstition, and the non-rational. I became quite interested in Neptune Fountains, and I have tried to see as many as possible. My favourite one so far is by the Sicilian nineteenth-century sculptor Michele Tripisciano in Marino Laziale, an hour south of Rome (it’s a twin fountain, the other one is in his home town in Sicily), and of course Neptune overlooking the port in Naples.
I’m also interested in representation from the fascist era in Italy, and I just got a book out on Mario Sironi, La Grande Decorazione, with all these incredible murals. There’s something about how the narrative is stacked and literally builds an image or a relief sculpture on a building. I’m planning to go and see a fountain and a mural representing an underwater landscape and seascape in Naples, in the Mostra d’Oltremare, an exhibition area similar to E.U.R. conceived as a world exhibition in the 1930s and then reinvigorated after the war in the 1950s.
My fountain installation at the Romanian Academy integrates architecture and image and some kind of story-telling aspect, but also other things: it is a kind of re-working of a Neptune Fountain and presents a mixture between debris and ornament, it has elements of a rescue situation at sea, or an aftermath of something, perhaps a storm. It is a sort of anti-monument. When I started the water was an aqua blue colour and it has now become a lurid green because algae have grown in the hot weather. I like how the elements change it. I have been working with it and developing it for the duration of the exhibition, during which time, the weather has shifted from thunderstorms and rain to 35-degree heat.
The piece changes all the time and becomes difficult to maintain because it’s eroding in the water and functions with the weather, and that’s also what I like.
Does this have something to with climate change?
I suppose you can read a sense of crisis into the image of it, but I don’t set out to make issue-based work. For me there is a sense of urgency with these pieces and they speak of internal states, which inevitably speak of external situations. I’m interested in the direct experience with the work, its undercurrents, maybe the unspeakable side of it, not the headlines. And that is connected to the elements and to weather as an emotional landscape. And yet again, it is connected in the overall atmosphere perhaps because of the wider political landscape of chaos we’re finding ourselves in at the moment. There is something about grief perhaps, I’m interested in the translation of difficulty, of emotional states.
Since being in Rome I’ve been drawn to the idea of the fountain as a continuous flow of water, invigorating, restless but still, and transformative, and I have researched a little bit about the Roman Acqua Vergine system too.
I’m interested in the physical impact of something and clash between image and architecture. It’s connected to a kind of trauma in a way. Italy seems to have processed the Fascist period in a completely different way to Germany for example. In Italy you get a different glimpse and angle into this time period.
So much was destroyed in Germany, and has also become unspeakable, and maybe for me it’s also something I’ve been interested in because of my own family’s trauma from that period.
Karin’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.
Interview by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries) . Photos by Karin Ruggaber unless otherwise stated.